A friend, who is a Free Grace pastor and Bible scholar, sent me an interesting note about a blog I wrote on Eph 6:1-4. Here is a portion of his note:
Too many weddings have the preacher preaching on the “Wives submit to your husbands” theme. Based upon Eph 5:21, “submit to one another in the fear of the Lord,” and the fact that “submit” is not in verse 22, I begin my wedding message by asking the groom, “How are you going to submit to your wife?”
It gets the whole audience to go into silence with full attention. No one asks that question. Of course, the answer is Eph 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her…”
There are seven reasons why I think Paul was saying that wives are to submit to their husbands and that he is not teaching the need for mutual submission:
- The verb hupotassō is found in both v 21 and in v 22. Most manuscripts contain hupotassō in v 22. My pastor friend is going with the minority text reading, which is highly doubtful. In his textual commentary on the Greek NT, Metzger and his committee give this a B rating (“almost certain”); however, they make a comment which suggests that hupotassō is surely original. In explaining why they think scribes added it “for the sake of clarity,” they say “the main verb being required especially when the words hai gunaikes [wives] stood at the beginning of a scripture lesson” (p. 541, emphasis added).
- Paul follows Eph 5:21 with three examples: wife-husband, child-parent, and slave-master. If husbands are to be asked how they will submit to their wives, then should we not also ask, “Parents, how are you going to obey your children?” and “Employers, how are you going to obey your employees?” I don’t think that is what Paul has in mind in any of the three relationships.
- Paul says that “the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is the head of the church” (Eph 5:23). The word head (kephalē), when used figuratively, means “a being of high status” and “in the case of living beings, to denote superior rank” (BDAG, p. 542).
- Husbands are indeed to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it. That clearly involves sacrifice. But that is not called submission by Paul. That is called loving by Him.
- If husbands loving their wives is submission, then what happens when a decision needs to be made? Say the husband is offered a promotion and raise, but they’d need to move to another state. He asks his wife, and she says she does not want to move. The husband prays about it, seeks more counsel, talks more with his wife about it, and ultimately decides it is best for the family to move. Does his love for his wife mean that he does what he thinks is best for her and takes the new job and moves the family? Or does his love for her mean he does what she wants, even though he is convinced that is not best for her?
- Of course, the wife may say, “Fine, you go, but I’m staying. I won’t move.” In that case, the wife is disobeying Eph 5:22. At that point the husband has two choices. He can give in to his wife and turn down the promotion to keep the marriage together (if the thinks his wife is serious). Or he can move and see if his wife follows through on her threat. This is not a healthy situation.
- Finally, two people cannot operate a democracy unless they agree all the time. If they disagree, then the vote is one to one. Stalemate. Nothing is done because of the tie vote. Thus, the wife has veto power over any decision the husband might make. Essentially, she is the head of her husband. Her husband submits to her. Then Eph 5:22-23 has been reversed.
Let me give you an example from Sharon’s and my marriage. We’ve been married 43 years. We’ve both failed often. I’ve failed to love her sacrificially. She’s failed to submit to me. But after our first 15 years of marriage, we faced several crises and I think we handled them in keeping with Eph 5:21-33.
I lost my job teaching at Woodcrest Bible College in East Texas due to the school folding. For months I was out of work. During that time, I had an interview in the Dallas area for Multnomah School of the Bible. Shortly after that, I flew out to Southern California for an on-site interview with International School of Theology. While I was out of town, Multnomah called. Sharon did not want to move to Portland, Oregon. But she knew I needed a job and she thought this might be God’s will. So, she told the department chairman that I’d love the job. When he asked about her moving to Portland, she said she’d heard it was beautiful, and she’d like to go. That was all faith talking. She was worried.
I ended up getting hired by Multnomah. Sharon submitted without even indicating she wanted to stay in Texas. She just did what she thought was best for me and for us, even though it was not what she wanted.
Three months after we moved, the rain started. It didn’t stop for nine months. It rained almost every day. It was dark and cloudy all the time. Sharon could not sleep much; she could not eat much, and she was miserable all the time. I told the academic dean that we’d be leaving after my one-year commitment was up, unless some miracle occurred. I loved teaching at Multnomah. And I was well received by the students and the administration. But I willingly left because the situation was terrible for Sharon. I’ve not taught full-time since then. But God had something better for me, even though I did not know it at the time. I left Multnomah to head GES full time.
So, Sharon submitted, and I loved her sacrificially, and though Sharon still has nightmares about being back in Portland, that year was an important one for us.
Did I submit to Sharon by moving back to Dallas? I don’t think I did. I submitted to the Lord Jesus Christ who through Paul told me to love my wife sacrificially.
In closing, I know cases in which husbands abused their role as head of their wives. They were verbally abusive. They did not love their wives sacrificially. They treated their wives like servants. The result was not good. Divorce was a common outcome.
I’m not suggesting that husbands can lord their authority over their wives. If they do, they are disobeying God. Loving leadership is sacrificial. But it is leadership. The husband is the head. The wife is not.
It has often been said that if all husbands loved their wives as Christ loves the church, then all wives would willingly submit. The hard part comes when the husband doesn’t always treat his wife properly. Or when the wife doesn’t treat her husband properly. In those cases, we are to seek to please God. The husband can’t force his wife to submit, and the wife can’t force her husband to love her sacrificially. But if we each do what God has commanded, we will have a good marriage, that is, a godly marriage.